The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has proposed the sum of N1billion each for the conduct of the forthcoming Anambra Governorship election and the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) respectively.
The Chairman of the Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, gave this indication while defending the agency’s 2021 budget estimates before the Senate Committee on INEC, in Abuja.
This is even as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya, challenged the election management body to urgently work out a special remuneration package for its staff in view of their enormous responsibilities.
Yakubu said that the CVR will commence in the first quarter of 2021 and the exercise will last for 18 months which is six months to the 2023 general elections.
He also told reporters that the Commission is favourably disposed to make provision for early and diaspora voting in the country, subject to amendments to the Electoral Act and other relevant sections of the Constitution.
He said that the early voting will enable essential service providers like the police, members of the armed forces, INEC’s Adhoc staff, media practitioners, etc, to exercise their franchise either before or during the elections.
He said that diplomatic staff in foreign missions as well as participants in the Technical Aid Corps (TAC) will also be able to vote for any candidate of their choice when the relevant legal instruments are emplaced.
Yakubu told reporters that the Commission has resolved to draw N6.2billion from its N10billion INEC Fund which was established in 2010 to augment its 2020 budget budget shortfall.
He said: “The Commission cannot be independent unless it is financially independent. There are some activities that happen that are time bound or bound by some specific provisions of the constitution that the Commission has to undertake.
“So, the fund was established to allow the Commission to discharge those responsibilities. It was established in 2010 but there was no cause to spend from it, and from the last five years this Commission did not spend from it.
“But what has happened now is our budget for 2020 dropped to N40billion from N45.5 billion in 2019. And as a result of the 10 per cent COVID-19 cut, it further dropped to N36billion in the middle of the year when we had already made preparation for expenditure.
“Therefore, since that fund is made for the rainy days, I informed the committee that the rainy day has come. So we are taking part of the fund to balance our budget for this year.”
He added: “For the Continuous Voter Registration, the Commission intends to resume voter registration in the first quarter of 2021. And once we resume, it will be continuous for one and half years, at least until six months to the next general election.
“In other words, the Commission is not going to resume voter registration for a week, two weeks or a month but we are working out the details.”
On the necessity for INEC to make provision for Diaspora voting, Yakubu said that the agency is eager to have Nigerians living in foreign countries participate in the electoral process.
He said: “The Commission is desirous of giving Nigerians living abroad the right to vote, after all, all our neighboring countries do so. But it requires the amendment to the Constitution and the Electoral Act for that to happen.
“And we have already worked out the document. Once the law is amended today, we can roll out. We are ready. We have had several meetings with the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) but we can’t go beyond what the law provides.”
On some groups who are often disenfranchised during election, the INEC boss said such essential workers can either vote before or on Election Day when their is relevant legal provision to support the idea.
“It is not just those in the armed services, the police involved in election duty, journalists, INEC adhoc staff and some INEC staff don’t vote.
“The reason is that you are posted for election duty to places other than where you are registered, and the law says you vote where are registered.
“So, if you pass some amendments to the Electoral Act to enable people to vote, there are two solutions perhaps: Early voting, so that those involved in election duty can vote early or major reform of electoral legal framework to allow people to vote wherever they are.”
On the request by the Committee that the INEC should urgently implement an enhanced salary structure for its staff, Yakubu said: “I remember when this matter was discussed last year you specifically tasked the committee to come back with suggestions and ideas on how we can enhance salary remuneration.
“We promised to discuss with the National Salaries Income and Wages Commission and we will come back to see what can be done.
“We have not gone far on this matter mainly because there were many distractions.
“Essentially, COVID-19 came in and the nation was shut down and after COVID-19 we were confronted with two major election – Edo and Ondo governorship.
“I assure you we will resume our discussions with the relevant agencies to see how we can get a totally different salary structure for INEC for the kind of work the commission staff are involved in. It is work in progress.”
In his reaction, a member of the Committee, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele said the National Assembly in carrying out electoral reforms will ensure that the “people that INEC relies on to be able to do their work as an umpire are also immune or sanctified against unnecessary temptations.”
Bamidele added: “We believe this issue of enhanced remuneration must be addressed. It is something that should be addressed because it is important.
“We will appreciate if you can report back in the next three months specifically on this issue and if it requires any form of legislative action on our part this committee would be happy to work with the Senate Committee on Establishment and other relevant committees
that can sit down with both INEC and relevant authorities to address the issue.”